Checking your PC’s CPU temperature is similar to checking your car’s oil: You don’t need to do it daily, but you’ll need to check your processor’s temperatures every few months. This is especially true if you regularly strain your system with higher loads like you’ll do with the Best CPUs for gaming, or if you’re an enthusiast that overclocks your CPU.
Luckily, checking your CPU temperature is simple and doesn’t require you to open up your PC and stick a thermometer inside. Instead, every CPU comes with built-in digital thermal sensors, so all you need is a bit of software to read the measurements.
Below we’ll break down how to check your CPU temperature, what a safe range of temperatures is for a CPU, and what to do if your CPU’s temperatures are too high.
How to Check Your CPU’s Temperature
Checking your CPU temperature is as easy as installing and using monitoring software, and then reading the value. There are multiple programs to choose from, with popular examples including Core Temp (opens in new tab), NZXT’s CAM (opens in new tab), AIDA64, or HWMonitor. For more advanced users, or if you’re overclocking your CPU and want more in-depth measurements, Intel’s eXtreme Tuning Utility (XTU) and AMD’s Ryzen Master software are designed by the chipmakers and also offer expansive options. These six are just a few examples of many, but we’ll show you how NZXT’s CAM and Core Temp work because we have found that these two are the easiest to install and use.
CAM is developed by PC case (opens in new tab), power supply (opens in new tab), and CPU cooler (opens in new tab)manufacturer NZXT. You can download it here (opens in new tab). While CAM is intended to be used with the company’s products, it works really well as a casual monitoring tool even if you don’t have any NZXT hardware. You can use the software in Guest Mode to avoid creating a user account, and you can also disable the program from starting automatically with Windows if you don’t plan on using it often.
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Once installed, CAM offers a well-presented user interface (UI). The first block (PC Monitoring) features the CPU’s status, which shows the load, temperature, clock speed, and cooler fan speed. You can click on this block to access further details, as shown in the second image in the above album.
As you can see, the current temperature of this system’s CPU is 36C, which is a healthy idle temperature.
CAM also has an overlay, which automatically turns on when you enter a game when CAM is running. This overlay can show you your CPU’s status while in-game, providing you with temperature measurements during your favorite game.
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You can also use the Core Temp tool to monitor the temperatures (download here). This is a simpler tool that works with a more basic UI. Just be sure to untick the freeware during installation.
Core Temp provides temperature measurements for every core in your CPU. The left-hand side of the measurements shows the real-time temperature of each CPU core, and you can also see the measurements in the taskbar. But we’re more interested in the Min and Max columns, which show the absolute minimum and the absolute peak temperature recorded while the program runs. This CPU has had a minimum temperature of 32C and a maximum of 51C and is, therefore, running at a normal temperature.
If you want to check your PC’s CPU temperature during normal use, you can leave Core Temp running while you perform common tasks. However, if you want to measure the maximum possible temperature, you can check by running a Prime95 stress test for about 30 minutes (download here). Just be aware that this program puts an extremely heavy load on your PC.
The best way to monitor your temperature while gaming is to just have a good session and then check back in with the program to see the maximum recorded temperature. You should be concerned if this figure is at or beyond 95C. Anything between 80C and 95C may have room for improvement.
What’s a Safe CPU Temperature?
When the CPU is idle, a safe temperature is anything under or around 50C. Under higher load, such as when playing a game, rendering a video, or other intensive tasks, your CPU consumes more power and, thus, runs at a higher temperature. This ‘load temperature’ is more important than idle temperatures (assuming idle temps are fine), so you’ll want to periodically monitor your CPU temperature under load to ensure it’s adequately cooled.
Under load, you want your CPU to ideally stay under 80C, though some CPUs may run hotter when they’re in ultrabooks (opens in new tab), gaming laptops (opens in new tab), or small-form-factor (SFF) computers. Additionally, AMD’s Ryzen 5000 processors are designed to run at up to 95C with a stock cooler, while Intel’s highest-end Core i9 Alder Lake processors will run up to 100C during normal operation. As such, while the 80C threshold serves as a good general indicator, it is important to ensure that your processor doesn’t reach its ‘TJ Max’ (Temperature Junction Maximum) temperature, which is the safe limit for any given processor. The TJ Max varies by chip, but most monitoring software lists the value. Additionally, you can check the chip’s specifications on the manufacturer’s page.
You have some wiggle room to creep past 80C, but anything above 95C is typically critical. At this point, some CPUs will begin throttling, meaning the chip will reduce its clock speed (opens in new tab) and slow down to ensure it doesn’t overheat, and your PC may turn off.
More advanced users who want the utmost confidence that their CPU can handle aggressive workloads should stress test their CPU (opens in new tab) to 100% using a program like Prime95 (opens in new tab)or AIDA64 (opens in new tab). When running such a stress test, keep a close eye on the temperatures, using the tools mentioned below, and back off once they reach too high (above 95C). We consider an ideal stress test to be one hour long, though your maximum temperature will likely level off after 10-15 minutes.
What Should I Do if my CPU Temperature Is too High?
If your CPU temperature exceeds 80C under load, you should check your system to ensure the CPU’s cooling is adequate.
Here’s a checklist of things to look for:
- Is your PC clean and free of dust (including the radiator and intake fans/filters)?
- Are all your PC’s fans spinning under load?
- When was the last time you applied fresh thermal paste between your CPU and CPU cooler? If it’s been over three years, consider re-applying the thermal paste.
- Does your model CPU cooler specify a higher cooling capacity than your CPU’s rated TDP?
For SFF PCs and laptops, it’s possible that there’s minimal cooling, as the device was never intended to be used under high loads for extended periods of time. For example, most laptops come with very compact cooling solutions that work well for short-term performance bursts but need to slow down during extended gaming sessions to stay below the shut-off threshold. Gaming laptops (opens in new tab) are often bulky because they’re packed with extensive cooling systems.
If you are using a full-size gaming PC (opens in new tab), however, and think your cooling should be adequate, you may want to re-apply thermal paste to your CPU (opens in new tab). Most thermal paste’s performance seriously degrades after about three years. Applying fresh paste (here’s a list of the best thermal pastes) and cleaning the system from dust can offer much better cooling power and significantly better performance. This applies both to pre-built and custom-built PCs (opens in new tab).